Time in the desert

A few years ago I was completely lost.  It was my time in the desert where I was in exile from the church, from my faith and being tempted by the evil one. I had been struggling for over 20 years to fulfill a mission that I believed God had given me and yet everything I tried to do to spread the message of “What Would Mary Do?” failed to bear any fruit.  

I wanted to help other mothers develop a motherhood mission like the greatest mother who ever lived.  Mary opened her heart to the gifts of the holy spirit which not only let God’s will be done through her, but it also gave her the grace to maintain the strength, courage, faith and hope that would be required for her to conceive, carry, birth, and raise God’s son, Jesus who came to be the Messiah for the world. 

Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brethren of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) and therefore what we do for our children, the way we treat them, should be what we would do if Jesus were our son.  Not that we are to worship our children, but we are called to love them with all our hearts and with all the fruits of the Holy Spirit just as Mary parented with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  I thought God wanted me to encourage other mothers to do the same. 

What I didn’t realize or maybe a better term would be I didn’t accept was that once I was given my quest, I was supposed to turn it all over to God and let him handle it.  But instead, my pride came into being and I hit the ground running.  Running in the direction I thought I should go, running in the direction other people told me to go to be successful.  If I didn’t hear God’s answer to my prayers right away, I went ahead and pushed through my own ideas of what I thought God would want me to do.  Rather than letting the Holy Spirit move and work through me, I took action into my own hands and without realizing it, I stepped off the straight and narrow path and began moving further and further away from God’s original intention.  As a result, my efforts were fruitless and thank the Lord for that because if the untruths I was sharing were fruitful, it would have been very bad fruit. 

All Mary ever did and all she ever wanted to do was to follow God’s will and lead people to Jesus.  That was my goal as well but Satan got in the way and I didn’t even recognize it.  

It’s hard to say exactly when Satan sidelined me from my mission because he laid seeds of doubt and untruths from an early age but there is one point in my life where I can clearly identify when he onslaught me with so many attacks at once, that I reached for the wrong life preserver.  As I feel I am now on the other side of that edge of death experience, the most baffling thing to me is how I can look back today and see all the moments where I had a choice, where God was trying to lead me back home and where I was so blind to God’s direction that I continued to make bad decisions that lead me down the wrong road. 

I am writing this today for three reasons.  First as a penance for my sorrow of ever leading anyone away with the statements of untruths that I shared.  Second as a warning of how insidious and cleaver and conniving Satan can be.  Third to give you hope in the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ because he did not leave me as a lost sheep but he kept seeking me until finally like Paul, I was given a great revelation and something like scales fell from my eyes, and I regained my sight of what is true and came back to Jesus. (Acts 9:18)  

Satan’s onslaught began when a new priest came to our parish and he quickly and decisively took away all of the ministries I had been a part of.  Most importantly, he took away religious education for my children.  By doing this, the priest also took away my sense of belonging, importance and a sense that I mattered to the church.  

The priest’s actions were a clear message that he did not care about me or my family to be a part of the parish that I had belonged to for over 20 years. I immediately deemed him as a “bad priest” and I was lost as to how to find a way to reconnect my children or myself to another parish.  It wasn’t until those scales fell off many years later that I realized the priest was cleaning house.  The director of the religious education in our parish was advocating yoga which encourages positions and sayings that are meant to worship other gods, new age ideas around the law of attraction and other occult messages.  All the parent volunteers had been trained by him so this priest was getting rid of any trails of Satan’s work.  I was blind to the truth and I bit Satan’s bait hook, line and sinker to eventually walk away from the church. 

When I did try to put my children in religious education at a different parish, Satan so severely attacked my oldest son that I was completely blindsided.  My son went on a confirmation retreat and saw it all as a cultish experience.  This was my son whom many religious education teachers had previously told me he was wise beyond his years about Christ and whom when he was little told me over and over that someday he would be a priest so I thought he was spiritually prepared for the experience. My own confirmation retreat had been a pivotal part of my faith journey and I held such hope for him when he attended.  

I was utterly shocked when my son returned saying he hated the entire experience.  He didn’t like the food so he was hungry.  He is a person who needs his sleep but he drew the middle of the night straw for adoration which he saw as cruel and unusual punishment and to boot, his girlfriend broke up with him at the beginning of the retreat so he intentionally avoided her and therefore missed out on all the fun free time activities.  Afterwards, he refused to attend any further confirmation classes and spread his negative attitude to his brothers who also refused to continue to participate in religious education.  My heart was crushed and I didn’t know what to do.  

I know what you are thinking (I thought the same)…they are kids, they must listen to their parents so it’s not that they refused to attend as much as I just gave up forcing them to.  Their tantrums outlasted me – yes, that is true.  

When I shared my distress, a good friend of mine provided a hopeful story of her children not wanting to attend church because their father was also not a believer in God.   But when hard times came, even though her husband didn’t attend, her children started coming to church with her and it seemed their faith was growing.  (What I didn’t bother to ask and didn’t learn until later was that as soon as life got good again, her kids stopped attending church and their faith waned.)  

She told me in that moment, in her experience if you put pressure on the kids, that would only drive them further away.  Again, Satan filled me with fear that I would drive my children away and so I caved into not following through on my parental duties to insist they attend religious education and go to church with me.  How was this EVER aligned with what Mary would do for Christ?  This was the exact opposite of what Mary would do and yet Satan convinced me that if I continued to expose my children to the faith that they would move closer to rejecting Jesus altogether.  This isn’t even logical, but so many scales had been added to my eyes, I believed it.  Many mothers whom I’ve spoke to today say the key is to continue exposing your children to the presence of Christ through the eucharist…bring them to mass, share with them the little moments God is working in your life every single day and show gratitude and love rather than fear. I so wish I had done what Mary would have done. 

I remember at times feeling like a fraud.  How could I think God had such a plan for me to share his message when I can’t even get my children to attend church and their faith was becoming more like their father’s who was an atheist?  Was my experience with God so many years earlier just a figment of my imagination? 

At the same time I had a sense of great doubt that my husband would ever become a believer in Christ and because he is such a good guy at heart, and there were so many other non-believers I knew that were good people to their core, I began to convince myself (and my husband) that because God is a loving God, everyone will end up in heaven no matter what you believe.  I came up with my own ideas that God’s love would surpass our free will (as if that is even loving).  I believed this despite knowing Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Rather than running to God for his grace, mercy and wisdom to make it through these difficult tests of faith, I simply rationalized God’s love would prevail over our own free will.  I completely disregarded the respect God has for us to not force us to follow him.  What I was believing was completely opposite of what Jesus taught us and Satan had me convinced my way of viewing the world was the more correct and loving way of interpreting God’s message. 

Of course Satan would want me to believe this…it is the perfect way to take away the urgency Christ called us to have in sharing and spreading the Good News, the message of our salvation and the necessity of Jesus.  Good people, wonderful people who refuse to accept Jesus, who weren’t warned of the gravity of the destination of their souls, would easily walk into Satan’s hell all by their choice but assisted by the untruths I shared.  

Somehow with all of these things happening at once, the insidious idea came to me that there really isn’t such a thing as evil.  My thoughts went like this: God made Satan in the beginning and everything God made was good. Satan was even one of God’s finest angels.  Satan by his own choice, chose to go against God’s will so my rational (again my own ideas and thoughts) was that even Satan could be saved and become good again because that was how he was made.  

I concluded Satan could be saved even though in Revelation it is clear that God banned Satan and all his followers from heaven. “Next, war broke out in heaven, with Michael and his angels in combat against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon—the ancient serpent who is called the devil, or Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—was hurled down to earth, and his angels were cast down with him.” (Revelation 12:7-9) 

Since my own recent revelations, where God let the scales fall off of my own eyes so that I could see the truth, I have heard over and over and over again how the thing Satan wants you to believe the most is that he doesn’t exist because if you believe he is not real, then he has full reign over you.  And this is what I began to believe – evil was not real.   

It is true that everything bad that happens in our lives happens as a result of human sin.  And it is also a fact that sin is only a result of our own choices.  It is also true that our lack of taking responsibility for those choices is what leads us further away from God.  The less we see our own sin, the more Satan has us in bondage because we continue doing that which is bad for us and for others and without recognizing our sin, we cannot ask for and therefore we cannot receive forgiveness.  

I believed that evil wasn’t real partially because I fell into the new age beliefs that God’s greatest desire is for us to feel good in life.  If you want a great resource for determining what books, trainings, etc contain new age thought, check out https://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/category/6482.  The thing about Satan is he will tell you something that is 98% true but it is the 2% of untruths that we believe that kills us. 

Yes, God has “great plans for us, plans for our welfare and not for our woe.” (Jeremiah 29:11) And yes we are called to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything give thanks for this is the will of God for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  However Jesus also claims if we are to follow him, we must take up our own crosses and therefore we should expect adversity. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). 

We are called to be joyful in the good and the bad moments. We are not called to avoid difficulties.  It is difficult to be a Christian.  It is difficult to be holy.  It is difficult to fight in battles against evils of the world but each of these will ultimately bring us to an eternal place in heaven where joy and love and peace fill our every moment.  If we are looking for the rewards of heaven here on earth, we will be seduced by earthly pleasures and we may gain during our short time on earth but lose on eternal happiness and closeness with God. 

When my kids were little, and still sometimes now, if they would ask me if they could watch an inappropriate movie or listen to songs with inappropriate lyrics, I would in turn ask them if they would eat a brownie with just a little bit of poop in them?  They would burst out a “No!” I would insist it would just be a little bit of poop just like they would tell me there were only a few “bad parts.”  After they would insist no, then I would respond with a no as well to their request.  Once we have a taste of something, or see something, or hear something, or even feel something that is not holy, it seems to be the thing that continues to tempt us into more unholy things.  I only wish I would have asked myself the same questions regarding some of my choices. 

I recently heard Fr Mike Schmitz say our suffering is what helps makes us holy because what really matters at the end of our life, when we meet our maker, is how well we loved.  Everyone can love when life is going smoothly but it is how we love when we are suffering that reveals the most to God about our hearts.  It is said that God told St Catherine of Sienna that he allows the devil to tempt and trouble God’s creatures so that they may overcome the temptations and prove their virtue.  God always finds ways to make something good come from the bad.  “And we know that to them that love God [a]all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

In today’s world we are so caught up in instant satisfaction and gratification that the devil knows he can put something pleasing in front of us and distract us easily away from the true joy of holiness.  The more holy you become, the more joyful you feel because you have the peace of following God’s will.  I sought to feel good as a result of my own worldly exterior pursuits like human approvals, accomplishments and even a desire for fame and fortune rather than heavenly and holy pursuits. 

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” (2 Timothy 4:3)

This verse describes my journey on the wrong road so well.  I even had training to become a “passion test facilitator” as a way to discover your purpose in life.  Although I put my own Christian twist to it to say God wants us to be joyful, it was based on the idea that what we want is what God wants for us.  Nothing to align with the idea that Christ tells us to follow him, not that he will follow us.  The idea that we get to decide what is good or bad, right or wrong and that all truth is subjective to each person is so false.  Yes, there can be subjective truth – I may say olives taste good but that is not everyone’s truth.  But there is also objective truth – undeniable truth that is true for all people whether they believe it or not.   All my own ideas were the beginning of my descent into moral relativism where I believed there are multiple truths that were individual for everyone rather than the one way, truth and life found through Jesus Christ.   

With the scales off my eyes, it is obvious not all truth is not subjective.  Two plus two will always be four no matter how much you desire it, believe or even know it to be otherwise.  Objective truth is not a perspective or an opinion, it is fact.  

The idea that evil is not real is refuted in so many places in the Bible and I simply failed to accept truth.  It is now so obvious to me why you can’t just take the parts of the Bible that fit with what you want to believe and discard the rest.  You must take all of God’s word as truth or none of it.  

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)

According to Fr Fortea from SpiritualDirection.com, Satan appears in the Old Testament 18 times but in the New Testament, Satan is referenced 35 times.  Even the word devil and demons appear more frequently in the New Testament.  This must mean that Jesus thought it was more important now than ever to understand Satan, demons and evil.  

When I was in my early 20’s I read the novel, Piercing the Darkness by Frank E Peretti.  I was intrigued by the portrayal of Satan and his demons are ruling the earth but it bothered me so much to think we are under constant attack by evil that I considered it made up fiction that was instilling fear rather than love and so I discounted it.  Since Christ’s resurrection however, the church has always taught that Christians are in enemy occupied territory and we are the church militant who must wear our armor of God. 

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:11-18)

The final steps I took that brought me way off course were in efforts to “seek to understand” other faiths.  I sought to understand what brought other people to their faith so that I could understand what might bring my husband and the rest of my family to believe in God.  

In the spirit of love and acceptance, I considered all faiths to be created by God as a way to bring people close to him.  What I didn’t accept and failed to comprehend was how the Old Testament says over and over and over again that there are many false Gods, many false religions that are all man made as a way to explain the world.  Those who refuse to believe in the one true God that had been revealed to the Jews and whose promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ as the messiah are violating the first of the 10 commandments. “Thou shall have no other Gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).   In my blind eyes, if all religions were created by the same God then no one had another God before him.  This was again my own faulty reasoning.  Another way for Satan to lead me away from Jesus.  

In my fog, I figured how could millions of people around the world believe in a God that did not provide for them? What I know now is that millions of people see their god or gods and goddesses as entities that are masters over them, making them slaves.  Their gods can and will do anything at any moment that may or may not be in their best interests.  Their gods are not loving, their gods are only self seeking and depending on your behavior, you may or may not make them angry.  

If you compare all religions, Christianity is different in one major way.  All other faiths were created by people who claimed to have revelations from God or a god/goddess about who God is or what God asks.  Christianity is the only one where the founder, Jesus Christ, actually claims TO BE God and follows it up with signs and wonders to prove it.  

CS Lewis rightly says there are only three options if a man claims to be God.  Either the man is consciously deceiving others and therefore they are a liar, or they are self deceived which makes them a lunatic, or the final option is they really are who they say they are and therefore they are divine.  

There were signs and wonders, healings and miracles from resurrecting people from the dead to giving sight to the blind and helping the lame walk that quite literally thousands upon thousands of people saw with their own eyes to become believers.  Pathological liars are known for only seeking self interests.  In no way did Jesus ever act selfishly.  If he were a lunatic, there would not have been the signs and wonders.  After Jesus’ resurrection he gave those baptized in His name, the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that all others could do greater things than he. “Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12).  

Every believer was filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and perpetuated Jesus’ message to the world.  In his short three year ministry, thousands of people followed Jesus and came to believe in him as the Messiah and now Christianity is the largest religious population in the world.  Christians, unlike other religions, are not called slaves but children of God.  In Christianity, God is our father who provides, protects, serves and saves.  How could I have ever even wanted my family to believe in anything other than Christ?  It was as if in my heart, all along I knew what was right but chose wrong anyways just in case I was missing out on something else.  It was the exact way Satan convinced Eve to take a bite of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  He convinced Eve she would be missing out on some special knowledge if she listened and obeyed God. 

I falsely created my own beliefs and made them into my subjective truths but touted them as objective truth.  I wrongly judged others who were keeping with the faith and traditions of the church.  I denied objective truths about leading people to God, the existence of evil and the creation of other faiths. I created my own beliefs on faith under the guise that I had been “enlightened” by believing and accepting all faiths, new age ideas and moral relativism.  And then COVID happened, objective truth became obscure and God answered my call for clarity.  

Thank God Christ is a good shepherd and he found me and led me back to Him.